Jul
26

Rangers’ window to contend remains wide open

July 26, 2016, by
The much-maligned defense does have reasons for hope

The much-maligned defense does have reasons for hope

Despite some shrewd acquisitions by GM Jeff Gorton this offseason, most fans and critics believe the Rangers have failed to make the necessary improvements required to propel them back into contention in 2016-2017.

That criticism is based largely on the sorry state of the defense where the Blueshirts appear poised to trot a unit that is no better than the group that was so porous a year ago. And despite improved depth up front and a radically improved penalty kill, that makes it hard to envision success, at least at the level that would meet lofty expectations for a club that had been knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup.

The roster is not perfect – far from it. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal remain the biggest problems and still stand to occupy $11.2 million of cap space for the next four seasons.

But despite their presence, all the gloom and doom surrounding the franchise is a bit ridiculous.

Though the Rangers don’t have a franchise young forward like Connor McDavid – Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and Pavel Buchnevich are all 26 years old or younger and all possess at least 50-point potential as they enter their prime years.

On defense, captain Ryan McDonagh has endured a series of significant injuries, but remains a top-pairing blueliner on an extremely affordable contract for three more seasons. And young pup Brady Skjei appears ready to join him as the building blocks for the blueline going forward.

In goal Henrik Lundqvist remains at the top of his game despite spreading fears that he might begin to decline at age 34.

It’s OK to be frustrated that the Rangers have failed to seal the deal in winning that elusive championship. And in New York, we certainly tend to be more dramatic about those failures than elsewhere.

But even though there’s work still to be done and some glaring reasons for concern, the notion that the Blueshirts should be in full rebuild is a bit silly. The aforementioned players comprise an outstanding core that is the envy of a huge percentage of the league’s clubs.

If the organization can add another major forward piece like Jimmy Vesey this summer, improve the defense with addition by subtraction by losing Girardi or Staal, or add Kevin Shattenkirk – who is also only 27 years old – over the next calendar year, then that on the fly retool the Blueshirts needed will have indeed happened.

Maybe not all at once in the month between the 2016 entry draft and the opening period of free agency when everyone was hyper-focused on the club’s transformation – but the process is indeed underway. Whether or not it is completed fast enough to position New York among the game’s elite again in time for the 2017 postseason is somewhat irrelevant.

Obviously that’s the ideal scenario, but the larger goal is to extend the window of contention for multiple seasons. And given the youth, growth potential and existing talent on the roster, the Rangers are well on their way to doing just that.

"Rangers' window to contend remains wide open", 5 out of 5 based on 34 ratings.

57 comments

  1. amy says:

    i think the rangers will contend we got younger and faster the defense will have to deliver

  2. SalMerc says:

    I have to agree with you. A youthful front line that is cost controlled removes one obstacle. The goalie situation along with the goalies on the farm seem strong. The defense, while still needing to be addressed has some bright spots with Skjei and McIlrath. Stall and Girardi, if used correctly can be valuable.

    The team that enters camp and the team that enters the playoffs is rarely the same. Let’s hope we score some goals on the PP, do better on the PK and stay healthy.

  3. Hey Yo Mikey says:

    Forget about Shattenkirk. He ain’t coming here. Move on.

  4. Walt says:

    Boyle & Yandle gone, Shjei & Mc Ilrath take their place=improvement.

    Moore, Stralberg ( I hated to see him go ), Glass, Brass all gone, or going, Z, Grabner, Jooirs, and Gerbe coming in=improvement.

    Girardi & Staal going to the third pair, improvement.

    Are we set to make a run, no, but things are better by the loss of the mentioned players, and their replacements. Should we continue to try to improve the roster, yes, with the likes of Buch, and Z, I thing that will happen.

    Bottom line, we will be a play-off team, 16 total from the east, we should be there. Will it be a deep run, I suspect not, until the third pair is gone, and replaced with two who can skate. Gorton isn’t done just yet, let’s see what happens when the first puck is dropped in Sept !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Dave says:

      Walt, if you are expecting Skjei to replace what Yandle did, you’re going to be disappointed. That is not an improvement. It’s no slight against the kid, but you just said he’s an improvement over one of the best puck carriers in the game.

      • Walt says:

        who also was a defensive liability !!!!!!!!!!!

        that to me is an improvement …………..

        • Dave says:

          He was less of a liability than both Staal and Girardi last year.

          • Walt says:

            Now that isn’t saying much is it really ?????????

            So AV should have played him over these two???

            Why does it always get back to the coach ?????

            • Dave says:

              When Yandle was on the ice, the Rangers had the puck. You don’t get him for defensive zone coverage. You get him to collect the puck in the DZ and transition. The game has changed Walt.

              • Roger Domal says:

                Walt,

                Again, hate to criticize, but because of our lack of possession, we didn’t draw penalties. So, Yandle, who was a top 3-5 point producer on PP anyway, was not on the ice enough!

                When a top pair defenseman gets out shot by over 400 shots, you have a serious possession problem.

            • jeff says:

              Hey Walt…..it always comes back to the coach. He’s the guy who hands in the line up and he’s the guy who assembles the troops. Hard to be peeved at DG the coach had him out on a cracked kneecap! Staal has his share of hurt as well. Coach had alternatives but didn’t avail himself of them. Im not an AV fan but as a fan i can be critical of his not”seeing” the team for what it was and not even trying to adjust.

              • Walt says:

                that is exactly what I’ve been screaming about all year long, AV is the problem, and based on my remarks, and the knuckle down crowd, there are plenty who support Bozo !!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • RangerSmurf says:

          Which is better to have?

          Defenseman that scores 3 goals but allows 2.
          Defenseman that scores 0 goals but allows 0.

          A lot of hockey people seem to think the 2nd guy is a better defenseman. It’s why you get people killing players like Karlsson, Letang, Yandle, etc….while praising the ‘stay at home’ guy who is ‘good in his own zone.’

          Those traits means shit if it doesn’t lead to outscoring.

          People are seriously undervaluing how much Yandle helped keep this team stay afloat last year. Without his offense (and Hank standing on his head), they weren’t a playoff team.

          And suggesting two (effective) rookies are going to step in and not only replace but improve the team is a heckuva an ask.

          • Ray says:

            Now, now — ignore goals. Only shots matter here.

            • RangerSmurf says:

              Shots matter in that they’re a better predictor of future goals over a small sample.

          • Lou says:

            Did someone put Yandle in the class of Letang and Karlsson? Really? Yandle couldn’t leave fast enough. He made Zubov look like Langway.

    • Arisrules says:

      I am really perplexed by the analysis here, as Gorton has done nothing but shuffle the decks and replace like for like. We were eviscerated by the Penguins and I don’t see why this team won’t suffer the same fate.

      On offense we know Z is worse than Brass in our own zone, so that is a decline for similar production (set aside youth and cap hit for a moment), and the bottom 6 replacements are similar to the players they replaced. However, we know Glass is still on the team and will continue to get PK time, where he is horrid. The only real wildcards are if Hayes will blow up (unlikely as AV dosen’t like him and benches him for no reason) and if Buch breaks rookie records (unlikely considering the production of similar players over the past couple of seasons). Having said that our forwards last year were never really the problem (Gorton’s trade of assets for E.Staal is one of the most inexcusable moves), so I think we will be fine here whatever the FO does with the defense (outside of that fourth line with the useless Glass).

      The defense of course is where the team was horrific last year, and will continue to be so as the Rangers FO did nothing to solve it. As of right now, the likely and most optimistic scenario based on rumors is the following:

      McD – Shatt
      Staal – Skjei
      Holden – Girardi
      McIlrath as spare.

      We know for a fact that AV doesn’t trust McIlrath (or else he would have been getting consistent minutes over the human traffic cone that was Girardi). So is this defense better? I am strongly leaning towards no as this defensive unit is a disaster outside of the top pairing. We let go the best defenseman available and will hypothetically replace him with a similar player in Shatt. So that is basically a wash. I assume that Klein will be going the other way for Shatt, so we are going to be hoping that Skjei or Girardi can handle minutes on the right side as the 2RHD or 3RHD. Skjei is a rookie and Girardi cannot skate, so that is a high level of uncertainty already. Plus Boyle logged a ton of minutes last year here which were competent. On the left side similarly we are hoping that one of Staal and Holden, both average third pairing d-men can handle second pairing minutes. Again, another wildcard that a Cup winning team would not be facing. Yet this “Cup-contending” Rangers squad is.

      This to me is a recipe for disaster, even if Skjei looks like the real deal. We will continue to have the same issues. Our PK will be a complete mongolian clusterf*ck again as AV won’t change tactics and will continue sending out Staal-Girardi as a “shut-down pairing” which is a joke. And our only hope is Lundqvist pulls us out of the abyss and drags the rotting carcass that is the Rangers to the playoffs. We are about to waste yet another season of his illustrious career.

      The Rangers could have gone into the season with this group of defensemen if they played their hand aggressively and smartly:

      McD – Shatt
      Yandle – Demers
      Skjei – McIlrath
      Wiercioch as extra d-man.

      This group skates circles around the current hypothetical group. But the FO wanted to give Girardi and Staal one last go. These two guys couldn’t handle it 4 years ago. They aren’t going to magically handle it now.

      • Spozo says:

        I’d love to join you in fantasyland sometime. That’s the only place where that 2nd lineup could possibly exist.

      • Fotiu is God says:

        … hey man, my Mongolian friends in Queens aren’t thrilled with your dropping their proud ethnicity in the same sentence as our PP.

      • Chris A says:

        So, um what hole did you bury Girardi and Staal in to create enough cap/roster space to sign Demers and Yandle and trade for Shattenkirk.

        If you are going to post something this long at the very least you should show your work and not insult our intelligence.

        But I like this game, let me try.

        Boy, the Rangers sucked last year, if only Jeff Gotrton traded Glass for McDavid and Hall and then Staal and Girardi for Crosby and Malkin, we would now have a great team. Why didn’t he do that?!?

        • Fotiu is God says:

          I like it when Chris gets his snarl on.

          • Chris A says:

            It’s the heat man, I can’t deal. I become super cranky during the work day

            • Fotiu is God says:

              Heat? C’mon Chris, it’s 115 here. I got your heat.

              Headed to Death Valley, in fact, come Thursday. I’ll send you a postcard from Hell.

              But back to the narrative: like Barry Beck your game has appreciably greater impact when you play with an edge.

        • Arisrules says:

          I actually find this kind of amusing that everybody is bashing this as a “pipe dream.”

          Lets go through the numbers for a second, because this is clearly a numbers free thread outside of Dave’s original post. The rangers currently have about 3.4 million in cap space if they bury Glass in Hartford (where he would be playing second or third line at best). Trading Klein would free up another $2.9 million, so that is already $6.3 million. Signing Wiercioch instead of trading for Holden (who is making 1.65 million) saves you another 0.8 million so you are at $7.1 million. Buying out Girardi would cost us 1.75 million against the cap giving you an additional $3.75 million in cap space. So that is 10.85. Then you get another 3.65 million from buying out Staal (his contract is $5.7 million and buying him out would cost us $2.05 million, and I honestly think that we can trade him and get more cap space). So the total cap space under this extremely realistic scenario is 14.5 million.

          Now about the contracts. Yandle is making 6.35 million and we controlled negotiations with him, but let him walk. Demers is making $4.5 and was a UFA. Shatt is making 4.25 million and has been looking to come to New York for the past couple of years, and we are looking to make this trade. Those three players would be 15.1 million at those contracts. So we would literally be a Fast or Glass trade away from being able to do this.

          And even not making the Shatt trade, why is this lineup not realistic:

          McD – Demers
          Yandle – Klein
          Skjei – McIlrath

          Demers and Yandle were UFAs. We could have negotiated with them. But nope, lets continue giving the Rangers FO a pass for their obstinacy, and lets blow another year of Hank’s career.

  5. Jerry says:

    Good assessment Kevin, and I agree, as always, with Sal. G and Staal if utilized properly can be serviceable. The forwards have improved, especially in the PK where we were, I’ll be kind here, not so good.
    I think Gorton has done a good job so far, as he was coming into the game handcuffed by some bad contracts, lack of cap space, as well as a very bare Wolfpack team. I still say our D is improved just by the fact Boyle isn’t here any longer. So it’s impossible for AV to put him on the ice no matter how much he’d like to…………..
    It should be an interesting season.

    • Dave says:

      Here’s the million dollar question: Do you think AV will deploy Staal/Girardi properly, in limited minutes not on the first pair?

      Now the follow up: Are you prepared for Staal/Girardi as your third pair, if that happens? That’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

      • Walt says:

        Dave

        AV will delpoy Girardi on the first pair, he is so stuck in his ways !

        As a third pair, train wreck yes, but where else do you play this pair?

        Everyone knows they can’t skate, so why match them against quality players ????????????? We are in deep poo poo with both of them, and will be until someone is moved…………

        • 43 says:

          Klein and MacTruck is the first pair. AV was already rolling them as the top pair by seasons end.

      • SalMerc says:

        I think Girardi can still play some of the best players in a defense-only position. If, when playing that defensive style, you are going to complain he doesn’t start the rush or doesn’t carry the puck, then you are asking more than he is now capable of doing.

        He cannot cover Ovie or Cindy one-on-one, but what defenseman can? You need to stop making 2 players the scapegoat and brunt of all things bad in Rangerland. What happened, you jumped off of the Tanner Glass bandwagon? If we scored more goals and the PP and PK was better, our defense would not have been such a sore spot. Ulfie is gone because he deployed the slow footed pair incorrectly. Give Beuk a chance. Gorton seems to know his job, and for all the AV hate, he knows his job too!

  6. James says:

    It’s true the Rangers have a good core of young forwards…and they need to continue to add to that core. But I would not be surprised if the Rangers fail to qualify for playoffs this season

    • Dave says:

      They’ll make the playoffs. Hank won’t let them miss.

      • 43 says:

        I just hope we’re not back to 2010 Rangers days, being a borderline 7th/8th seed, acquiring guys like Anders Eriksson and Olli Jokinen at the deadline…

  7. Jon says:

    I have to say Gorton did really well with very little available to him. He managed to get a pair of draft picks for Yandle who was about to walk for nothing. He made us a lot faster up front if he can swindle Shattenkirk out of STL, I think we can stick with the better teams in the East.

  8. Original 6 says:

    Sather took a short term approach, rightfully so. Gorton has proven in his time that he can juggle both short and long term. I’m excited to see how the rest of the offseason plays out and what he does next.

  9. pas44 says:

    I still think JG is about to make a move. He seems to be on a path!

    LGR!!!

  10. Dan says:

    Nice article, I like the positivity and optimism.

    Remember the Blackhawks won a cup with Michal Rodzival … Michal Rodzival (think that’s how you speed it). I’m not saying they’re going all the way this year but there are cases each year when everything clicks and teams make a deep run, even when you have players like that (i.e. Staal and girardi). Also helps to have Patrick Kane and Toews lol. But you get my point.

    Also … Who here picked San Jose to go all the way to the cup this year? It’s a long season, and I agree with Sal. The team going into the playoffs is always different than the team you have opening night. It’s a process and I think gorton has gotten off to a great start this summer retooling a team that desperately needed a little bit of a makeover. We’ve got a lot of good young pieces who have a high ceiling. I feel like this is what we’ve wanted as fans for the LONGEST time.

  11. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    “The roster is not perfect – far from it. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal remain the biggest problems and still stand to occupy $11.2 million of cap space for the next four seasons.”

    – This is the reason folks are down on the team, and frankly, they’re right to be until that is rectified. This team isn’t winning anything until those massive cap hits are no longer on the books. No team can withstand $11.2M(!!) of dead cap space.

    • Stranger Nation says:

      Correct that the contracts are anvils but while overpaid, they are competent NHL D-men if utilized correctly. The PP still needs a QB and McD still needs a partner. However, Pissburg proved you do not need 4 Norris trophy candidates back there if the forwards can possess the puck.
      .
      AV’s go-go offense will need to spend more time in the Ozone and Buek may need to employ a hybrid man/zone D to account for the lack of speed and prevent all the Grade A chances being given up. Not having Dam Boil and Yandlabra will improve the Dzone coverage along with Zika in the pivot.

      • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

        “Pissburg proved you do not need 4 Norris trophy candidates back there if the forwards can possess the puck.”

        – You’re right, but what Pittsburgh did prove is that you need mobile defenseman who can handle the puck. We’re right back to the issue with $11.2M tied up in two players who cannot do either.

    • jeff says:

      I agree about the cap hit. The real key imo is not skating these guys together or in the same game. Rotate McI, Holden bring up Bodie and Graves for a game or two get them some experience in case of emergencies instead of being kept over a barrel at the trade deadline. This will keep the two guys fresh as well as potentially increasing their trade value.

    • BOBBY B says:

      Ranger Fan in Boston, Home Run of a comment, it could not be said any better. The Truth is painful, but its the Truth!!

    • Chris A says:

      Well, the Rangers are young enough that they can kind of work around Staal and Girardi by having young forwards that have a chance at massively outstripping their production to cost ratios.

      If that happens and AV is judicious with Staal’s and Girardi’s respective matchups and ice times, then the Rangers should be a surprisingly good team. Also, Girardi was so bad last year that even a small bounce back by him would be a massive improvement. Things are nowhere near as bad as some people think, and that was basically the point of Kevin’s OP.

  12. RangerSmurf says:

    In the Rangers last 61 reg season games last year, they were 30-24-7. A 90 point pace.

    Hank’s insane October/November hot streak is basically the only reason the team even made the playoffs.

    The defense is relying on two almost-rookies to replace their two best possession players.

    Lets maybe hold off on the parade planning for a bit.

  13. Andy says:

    We definitely have enough to make a run. How far is the question. When you look at the teams who have won over the past 6 years or so there appears to be a formula for success.
    1. Have a big solid goal scoring center.
    2. Have a big stud D man
    3. A goal tender good enough to win..

    There are plenty of other intangibles…but all of the winners had this formula

    Chicago- Towes, Keith and Crawford(does not hurt to have a guy like P. Kane either)
    LA- Kopitar, Doughty and Quick
    Pitt- Crosby(and Malkin) Letang and Murray(unless you followed real close you are saying huh)
    Boston- Bergeron(maybe not as big a name as the other but he sure scores at the right time) Chara and Rask.

    The Rangers have a more balance approach. Not to say that can’t work, but they really only have the Goalie in this equation. McDonaugh is a very solid D man, but he has not reached the peak of the others in his career yet. He needs to stay healthy also or we are in big trouble.
    The Penns were interesting as the group was not working and a new coach brought in a bunch of AHLers to firm up the roster and wall paper obver their problems on the cheap. Who knew Rust, Sheary, Dumoliun and Murray. But it worked. So mayeb it can work for the Rangers too with the changes they made.
    Finally we talk a lot about Girardi improving. I get it and not going to challenge that, but M. Staal is really the guy who needs to step up. He’s younger and should have a lot more left in the tank.

  14. Ray says:

    Amen, Kevin, the battle for the Cup is just about to begin and there are probably about a dozen teams that can win it. Some teams may have a 20% shot and others 5%. All these offseason moves do is adjust the Ranger percentage. Some may lament that we are at 6% when their moves would have put us at 14%, but either way, the Cup is both possible and an uphill climb.

    Either way, the matter will be decided by talent, systems, team discipline, motivation, and health.

  15. Richter1994 says:

    If memory serves, Yandle had the most assists by a Ranger D man since Brian Leetch. The D corps last year was terrible and that was with Yandle on it.

    So if you rate the Rangers’ season as a success if they merely make the playoffs, then yes, they will be successful. But if you think a D corps with G and Staal are going to be able to keep up with teams like the Pens, Caps, and Bolts, to the point of contending, then I think you’re going to be very disappointed. Not happening.

    Even getting rid of one anchor would help the situation immensely. While the changes at the forward positions were positive, that’s not where the real problems are. It’s putting lipstick on a pig.

    • Arisrules says:

      Again exactly this. We shuffled the decks on the forward line, and got much worse at defense. Expecting Girardi or Staal to come back and play well is completely unlikely.

      • Richter1994 says:

        Rangers are biding their time on Shatty. STL wants Kreider who is now untouchable. So hopefully picks will do it at the trade deadline. But Shatty’s agent is pressing big time to force a deal. I think 6 years, $36M extension does it.